Coalition stooshie* as Tories refuse deal to get EU Referendum Bill debated

There’s been an almighty row in the Coalition over which Private Members Bills should be given government support.

The Liberal Democrats had offered the Tories a deal which would have given both Bob Neill’s Bill on an EU referendum and Andrew George’s on the Bedroom Tax a fair chance of becoming law. In return, the Tories offered the Liberal Democrats a deal under which only the EU Bill would have stood a chance. We’d have been daft to have let them away with it.

Deputy Leader Sir Malcolm Bruce said:

There is a completely reasonable deal on the table here – each party gets a money bill for a Private Member’s Bill they feel strongly about.

The Liberal Democrats were never going to block their referendum bill. We were happy to allow them to try and get it passed in the House of Commons. But the truth is they have folded like a cheap deck chair and are trying to make us take the blame by adding ridiculous conditions they knew we would not and could not accept.

It is amazing that the Tories are prepared to sacrifice a bill they say they care about for some short-term tactical distinction from UKIP. They clearly never wanted the referendum bill to pass.

A Liberal Democrat source said:

The Tories put forward a proposal they know for certain will be turned down by the Lib Dems – a completely unfair deal.

They know we are not about to sign up to their bill being given government time when it is neither the Liberal Democrats position, nor the Coalition Government’s, especially when they are not prepared to offer anything in return. The Coalition Government is a two-way street.

The only logical conclusion that can be reached is that the Tories don’t really want their bill to pass and are trying to set the Lib Dems up as the scapegoats. Why else would they put forward a proposal they know cannot be agreed?

We can only assume they would prefer it hadn’t become law by the time of the General Election. They would prefer not to be talking about their bottom lines in their proposed grand renegotiation and instead try and deal with UKIP by saying the only way to get a referendum is to vote Tory. They couldn’t do the latter if their bill had become law.

The unhappy result of this is that Andrew George’s Bill to reform the Bedroom Tax and mitigate its worst effects will be lost too. I have to say I am not wildly chuffed at the Liberal Democrat offer to give the EU Referendum Bill a shot at becoming law, but then I probably have a massive and understandable dose of Referendum Fatigue

Both sides are taking the chance to show that they fought for a key priority. But only one side was playing fair and offering a like for like deal. And it wasn’t the Tories. They could have given their supposed aim for an EU Referendum a chance if they’d only been able to see the need to deal with the misery caused by the Bedroom Tax and recognise that the policy had not done what it had set out to do. The phrase having their cake and eating it comes to mind.

To a certain extent it’s a manufactured row, but it has at least given the Liberal Democrats plausible deniability when the Tories try to pin the blame on us. They don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

* Scottish word for a good old fashioned row.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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19 Comments

  • Of course those of us who don’t have a spare room and are are not remotely wealthy will be happy not paying extra tax I will say however medical equipment space is fine in my book

    Tit for tat on EU sounds like kids who take the bat home if they don’t get own way, maybe the polls showing big shifts that at least show me the electorate want a referendum and may well blame LibDem for blocking democracy

  • Paul Walter
    The basic ingredients of a stramash are confusion and noise, usually accompanied by a crowd of people, some anger or violence and, often, a generous consumption of alcohol.
    Near English equivalents of stramash include rumpus, free-for-all and the more literary mêlée.

    I am not sure if you can have a “stramash in a tea cup”.

  • Charles Rothwell 29th Oct '14 - 7:57am

    Personally, having most of my adult life (since the 1975 Referendum which (we were told) was going to “settle the issue for good”) watching the UK go through every stage of agony imaginable over its relations with the EEC/EU, I am now of the view that (1) we should finally have the accursed referendum and have done with it once and for all, 2) allow people (as in 1975) to form cross-party allegiances on the issue (which means we would have the likes of Ken Clarke, Michael Hesseltine, Damian Green, Malcolm Rifkind etc. on our side (presumably some from Labour as well, but who knows? – they are aping the Tories in their rabbit in the headlights behaviour as the Kippers advance (and Scottish Labour implodes)), 3) establish THIS Party as the ONLY one fully in favour of EU membership (albeit one which is to be reformed radically, starting with abolishing the idiocy of the Brussels Strasbourg commute and taking a very serious look at the resources devoted to and role played by the European Parliament etc etc) and get every endorsement we can (CBI, Export Credit Guarantee agency, British Influence etc etc), 4) if necessary, let the Coalition go hang before May, go to the country and fight it out for good. If we lose and the UK population wants to become the Singapore of Europe (with social provisions, wage levels and job security to match) (probably while dreaming at the same time that they are going to wake up as a ‘second Norway or Switzerland’), there will probably be little room for a moderate centrist party in the country any more in any case.

  • Paul In Wokingham 29th Oct '14 - 9:30am

    It may well be a manufactured row but it certainly doesn’t appear to involve “plausible deniability”. The Tory press and all of the other parties will spend the next 6 months saying that the Lib Dems killed the referendum, and eventually that will be “the truth”.

  • @ Paul

    I totally agree with you. The Lib Dems can be completely in the right, as they so often are, but the combined might of our media enemies will paint a different picture.

    This has been a consistent picture throughout the last four and a half years.

    The other parties are determined to gang up and try to snuff out our challenge to their duopoly, as always.

  • Can anyone explain how these money resolutions work? If there’s a parliamentary majority for the George bill, why can’t it be moved and voted through against Conservative oppositon? Is there any way round refusal to move a money resolution?

    On the big picture, it shows just how difficult a continuation of the Coalition would be after May. We’ve done everything we agree on, and have entrenched positions where we don’t agree. If we can’t handle our disagreements by even granting these money resolutions whatever they are, god help anyone trying to draft a future coalition agreement. Would need ways of handling known disagreements much more second time round.

  • Glenn Andrews 29th Oct '14 - 10:18am

    So I assume the headline ‘Keeping the bedroom tax is more important to the tories than the EU referendum’ will appear on all Focus leaflets in Con/LibDem marginals. It both encourages tory/kipper waverers to stay put and reminds the ‘anyone but tories’ why they need to turn out.

  • If, as is claimed, the Party is not getting the credit for the part it has played in restricting Tory nastiness – surely the best thing to do is to end the Coalition now.

    It is clear that the image painted of the Party’s role will be tarnished further as the GE moves ever closer – with its poll ratings continuing to sink. Better to force a GE now whilst the rating still occasionally reach double figures.

  • tpfkar 29th Oct ’14 – 10:17am
    Can anyone explain how these money resolutions work?

    Tpfkar – Your question is a perfectly reasonable question. The simple answer is yes, some people do know how these things work. But my advice to you is not to waste any of your own time trying to get to the bottom of any explanation.

    Our Parliament does not work, in the sense that a legislature in a modern democracy would normally be expected to work. We can have majority votes on the hated bedroom tax or majority votes on recognition of Palestine and they can be ignored.

    Our Parliament is not intended to work. It is there to offer the appearance of debate and decision making, to entertain the masses, to provide a sort of Prince Consort inspired Disneyland for Tourists, to be a job creation scheme for former generals who like wearing fancy dress and carrying maces and rods and such like, and for a thousand really lucky citizens it provides indoor relief of some hundreds of pounds attendance allowance for sitting on a red bench for a few minutes ever day.

    There was once a political party that was going to change all that. Their leader became Deputy Prime Minister and he took on personal responsibility for Constitutional Reform. These words actually appeared on the door of his offices. I wonder what happened to him and all those grand promises he made to change the place. Does anyone recall?

  • Well said John Tilley.

    Our Parliament is all the things you write – and since Blair, at least, it has been simply a farce kept in place to disguise the fact that our nation is being run for the benefit of bankers and multinationals.

    I am afraid the leader to which you refer also serves this group like most of the other party leaders. Once out of office he like Blair & Brown will be eligible to join the group who are paid £70-100k for a speech to some obscure focus group.

  • One of the effects of the rise of UKIP is that The Tories seem to have stopped seeing themselves as The “Natural Party of Government” & now want to be another Protest Party, all gestures & stunts. Theres an obvious parallel with the corrosive effect of The Tea Party movement in The US.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Oct '14 - 3:26pm

    Why dont you table your own referendum bill in the Lords and agree with Labour and others to table Andrew Georges Bill on an opposition day .This would leave the tories out in the cold.

  • Michael Taylor 29th Oct '14 - 4:04pm

    Have none of your correspondetns heard of the fixed term parliaments act? This was one of the constitutional reforms that DID get through. So unless 2/3 of the HoC are willing to vote for an immediate GE it can’t happen. If we left the government the Tories would just carry on as a minority government till May next year. If there was a vote of no confidence there still wouldn’t be a GE until all avenues of setting up a stable government had been exhausted. and I suspect that would be as near May as makes no difference. (Remember, Belgium was without a government for over a year) Also it would prove we can’t be trusted to stick to a solumn undertaking of a five year government thus destroying the little credibility we have left.

  • John Tilley – thank you for your wisdom and setting my eyes in the right direction. You’re absolutely right

  • John Roffey 29th Oct '14 - 5:09pm

    @ Michael Taylor

    I very much doubt if the voters would respect the Party for soldiering on to the bitter end – if the coalition parties could not agree on what legislation should be presented. I very much doubt if they value fixed term parliaments – it would seem that they cannot wait to get rid of this administration – particularly NC.

    Out of the Coalition at least the Party’s MPs could speak out and demonstrate how they had tempered the Tory’s ‘nastiness’ [if that were truly the case] – which is difficult as things stand.

    It would also be difficult for any party to justify continuing a non functioning parliament – if that were the outcome. In such circumstances all would be obliged to support overturning this experiment.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Oct '14 - 5:59pm

    Michael Taylor, no doubt you and others will have better information, but I think there is a second way in which an election can be triggered. ‘IF’ a Government resigns (with or without a motion of no confidence?) then Parliament has I think 2 weeks in which to provide another Government which can command a majority in the Commons. If one cannot be found i.e if one cannot win a vote of confidence within the time limit, this too triggers a general election .

    Thus, the Lib Dems cd leave the Coalition and join others in a motion of no confidence or put one down themselves. If that was carried one imagines that the PM would resign. Although that would be a real test of our unwritten constitution !!!

    It may be that in such circumstances Labour would refuse to try to form a Government … in which case both Tories and Labour are in effect saying they want an election … perhaps they’d even combine to provide the 2/3rds majority.

    Of course 110 years ago I seem to remember the Tories did something similar and Campbell Bannerman called their bluff and formed a Government … prior to an election.

    I have always thought that February or March would be the best time for a ‘fixed’ term Parliament to end as it would enable a number of budgets to be presented to the public. The victor or victors of any election wd then begin their term of office with their own budget in the last week of March.

    When Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have all outlined totally unachievable fiscal proposals for the next Parliament this kind of examination might be thought beneficial to open Government and the British people.

  • I do wish people would read the Fixed term Parliaments Act:
    “Early elections can be held only:
    • if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House or without division or;
    • if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days.
    (from the HOC library)

    So the only major effect is to mandate a 14 day period to try to assemble another government. In reality not that big an issue as in a hung parliament situation where another party were to make a credible pitch that it could form a governemnt constitutionally the Queen would probably allow an opportunity for that to happen and to be confirmed by a vote of confidence.

    But anyway John Tilley has made a very very cogent comment above about the role of Parliament and the lack of reform that has taken place on this front with the Lib Dems in government.

    In Broad terms Parliament is too much under the control of the executive (who set the timetable) etc. Paddy used to talk about Labour wanting to inheirit the system, whilst the Lib Dems wanted to change it.

    What we see here is the Lib Dems wanting to inheirit the system and have their “turn” at controlling the Parliamentarly agenda.

    Where has been the moves for reform so that Parliament can have real discussions and decisions on these issues without the executive having stitched it all up in advance.

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